For art works exploring the mechanism of capital, Art Metropole is an interesting prototype from a different time. As a service, the (quite lovely) shop in Toronto displays and distributes the work of artists via its book store as well as in its online shop. It was founded 1974 by the art group General Idea, whose approach is not so far off from today’s post-internet projects: “We wanted to be artists, and we knew that if we were famous and glamorous, we could say we were artists, and we would be.” To do it, they took to the media of their time: the magazine. Their own, FILE Megazine, played off the name and visual emphasis of LIFE magazine and did this with glossy graphic competence spread over 26 issues. Today, General Idea is known for creating its own unique mythology, which glamorously embraced ideological struggles in slick art productions that were critical propositions. While General Idea has stopped after two of its members died from AIDS in 1994, Art Metropole is still embracing the infiltration, selling artist books, multiples, zines, clothes, DVDs, cassettes, downloads, and a country cane, which “comes with a Sisyphean AM-PM Decor fall 2012 catalog”.
The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) is a research and educational institution established in the 1990s to explore the “nature and extent of human interaction with the earth’s surface”, although its activities focus only on the United States. In addition to a superb online archive of images and other research detailing the abandoned manmade edgelands of the U.S. and the great social and material changes that are traced within them, the CLUI publishes books and field guides, leads public tours to and is the central institution in the American Land Museum, a network of landscape exhibition sites across the United States. They run a small museum with a bookstore and library based in Los Angeles and public research centres in the Mojave Desert, Kansas and Utah. Although it evokes something of the ‘land art’ of the 1960s and 1970s, and the hallowed position it holds in the narrative of postwar American art, and has resonances with aspects of the environmental movement the CLUI operates with a much broader and experimental conception of land use. Much of their work engages with the hybrid socio-natural landscapes produced by industry, energy production, agriculture, military activity, waste disposal and infrastructure projects. Although their lens is perhaps overly saturated with a sort of depopulated post-industrial aesthetic that fetishizes the remains of social processes at the expense of those processes themselves, they provide an invaluable resource for those interested in the relationship between social and environmental processes and the material manifestation of industrial and state planning in the twentieth century. Echoes of their work can be found in Smudge Studios and Trevor Paglen, artists whose research-based projects have likewise explored the relationship between landscape, technology and power, from both political and ecological perspectives.